VIU’s business training program helps people with disabilities on the path to self-employment.
The Cooperative Entrepreneurs Training Program (CETP) at Vancouver Island University (VIU) offers students with disabilities or those who have faced barriers to employment the opportunity to learn all the essential skills to become an entrepreneur.
Biggers’ journey into entrepreneurship began when she decided to seek out a black business to support. She found a New York-based company that sold specialty fabrics. At first, she didn’t really have a plan for the fabric she was buying, but she quickly decided it would make great pillows, and the idea of starting a business came to mind.
At the same time, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, her mental health and the fact that she lives with disabilities with her 76-year-old mother and 19-year-old daughter, Beggs worried that the future could hold for her and her family.
It was then that she decided to seek help from her employment counselor, who suggested VIU’s CETP program.
“The program seemed perfect – and it is,” says Biggers. “I had no idea how much I was going to learn about business and about myself.”
Perry says she decided to enroll in the program “because I wanted to learn the right terminology for business and wanted to take the next step with growing my business.”
The program “is definitely an eye-opener on what an entrepreneur really is and what owning your small business is,” Perry says. “It really helps you run and take your small business to the next level.”
Since its inception in 2018, CETP has been fully funded by the Ministry of Higher Education and Skills Training, resulting in no program costs for eligible students. This year, for the first time, each student was paired with a mentor for the duration of the program and received $1,500 in seed funding from Cooperative Education and Workplace Learning (CEWIL) Canada .
The full-time, 30-week program is a safe place for students to bring their business ideas to life, says instructor Amy Woermke. “Entrepreneurship is a long-standing way for people of diverse abilities to earn a living and contribute to their communities.”
Courses include a combination of business strategy, financial literacy, marketing, and mentoring. Although the program was entirely online out of necessity amid the ongoing pandemic, it quickly became apparent that a virtual classroom was in fact opening up the program to students across the province, who could learn wherever they were. live. As a result, all program seats were filled for the first time by students from across British Columbia – students like Beggs, who lives and works in Mission, and Perry, who lives and works in Kamloops.
Going forward, Woermke says the program will continue to be offered online to maintain accessibility across British Columbia.
And while Biggers and Perry are still in the program, they’re each starting to see their businesses take off. Perry says she’s always wanted to have a small business, and now she already has tote bags, pillows and headbands for sale that all feature her photography.
“I’m addicted and I love what I do,” she says.
Biggers is currently working on two custom bead orders and recently found success attending her first marketplace as a seller, selling five of the nine pillows she brought with her. When she and her peers complete the program in May, “I think we’ll all be ready.”
For those interested in seeing the work of Biggers and Perry, as well as the work of other students in the program, a virtual showcase event will take place on Thursday, April 7 at 6 p.m. Details and tickets are available via Eventbrite.
Anyone wishing to apply for the next CETP intake can send an e-mail email@example.com.